By Justin Sink - 12/14/12 08:53 PM EST
A visibly emotional President Obama offered condolences to the victims of the mass shooting Friday at an elementary school in Connecticut, saying the country has "endured too many of these tragedies."
The president also vowed that "it is time to take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics," an indication that the president could be prepared to confront gun control.
Twenty-seven people, including at least 20 children, were reportedly dead in the shooting spree, according to multiple media reports. The violence ranks among the worst mass shootings in American history.
Obama said among the victims were "beautiful little kids between the age of 5 and 10."
"They had their entire lives ahead of them," the president said. "Birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own."
Obama paused repeatedly to wipe tears from his eyes, visibly shaken by the news. He said that this evening, he and first lady Michelle Obama would "hug our children a little tighter," but mourned that "there are families in Connecticut that cannot do that tonight."
"Our hearts are broken today for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children, and for the families of the adults who were lost," Obama said.
The president said that he had been in contact with Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy and FBI Director Robert Mueller, along with chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, as details of the shooting emerged. He emphasized that the federal government would work to support local law enforcement efforts.
The president addressed the nation from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, named after President Ronald Reagan's press secretary, who was shot and disabled during an assassination attempt in 1981.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a nonprofit anti-gun organization also carrying the former press secretary's name, issued a statement earlier Friday decrying the violence.
"Another day, another horrific shooting eating away at our collective peace of mind. This time at a school in Connecticut. We are better than this," the organization said. "What matters is not what we do after the sensational tragedies. It's what we do between them — to make the voice of the American public heard."
Earlier Friday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that "today is not the day" to discuss gun laws, focusing his concern instead on the victims and their families.
"I think it’s important, on a day like today, to view this as I know the president, as a father, does, and others who are parents certainly do: which is to feel enormous sympathy for those families affected and to do everything that we can to support state and local law enforcement and to support those who are enduring what appears to be a very tragic event," Carney said, adding that there would be "a day for discussion of the usual Washington policy debates, but I do not think today is that day.”
Carney did say during the press briefing that President Obama stood by his call to renew the assault weapons ban, but quickly pivoted away from the policy discussion. The president last spoke about the subject at length during a speech to the National Urban League in New Orleans in July.
"I believe the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms," Obama said. "But I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not on the streets of our cities."
He reiterated that call during the second presidential debate, saying part of the solution to gun violence "is seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced."
The shooting Friday was not the first time that Obama has been forced to confront gun violence. Earlier this week, a gunman at an Oregon mall shot three people and then killed himself. In July, a gunman in Aurora, Colo., killed 12 people and injured 58 others during a screening of the film "The Dark Night Rises."
On Friday, Obama said that "as a country, we have been through this too many times."
"Whether it is an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago, these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods and these children are our children," Obama said. "And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."
The president has also called for stepped-up background checks on those who want to purchase guns, although the White House had previously said that the president was not necessarily proposing new legislation on that front.
Shortly before the president spoke, the White House released a presidential proclamation ordering flags to be flown at half-staff at public buildings until next Tuesday evening in honor of the victims of the shooting.
--This article was originally published at 3:30 p.m. and last updated at 3:53 p.m.